Economic Development in Denmark Before and During the World War/Social and Economic Developments in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century

Social and Economic Developments in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century

The most important event in the history of Denmark in the second half of the century was the war of 1864, which deprived her of the duchies of Sleswick, Holstein, and Lauenburg, and which was a more especial grievance in that it separated the Danish inhabitants of northern Sleswick from Denmark, and, in spite of a solemn promise of speedy restoration, kept them under the heavy yoke of German rule. This event was to become of prime importance, not only for Denmark, but for the whole of Europe, as the hotbed of subsequent European conflicts and as an essential factor in the growth of Prussia as a military state. For the economic life of Denmark it was of still greater importance—just as the separation of Norway from Denmark in 1814—in that it gave industry a strong impetus for attacking and solving the many problems which pressed upon it within the country's narrowed boundaries. As a result certain industries grew so rapidly that they not only supplied the home market, but also secured a foothold in the world market. The task was further aided by a redistribution of the population, which, as stated above, had rapidly increased throughout the nineteenth century. Agriculture could not employ everybody, and large numbers were consequently thrown into trade and industry.

The importance of these changes may be shown by a few statistics. At the beginning of the nineteenth century 929,000 people were living within the boundaries of Denmark; of these approximately a fifth lived in the towns, being about equally distributed between the capital and the smaller towns. When the Free Constitution was adopted in 1849, the population totalled 1,415,000, of whom the townspeople still represented a fifth. The capital, which at that time had only 133,000 inhabitants, had grown very slowly in comparison with the provincial towns and rural districts, but from then on it grew more rapidly. In 1860 it had 163,000 inhabitants; in 1871, 198,000; in 1901, 477,000; in 1916, 606,000. Thus the time may soon come, if no unforeseen events occur, when Denmark will have a capital with a million inhabitants a big head on a small body. During the same years the provincial towns also increased considerably; in 1870 they had a quarter of a million; in 1901, half a million; in 1916, very nearly as many as the capital. In contrast with this, the rural population remained almost at a standstill. In 1850 it numbered 1,116,000 people; in 1916, 1,711,000; but of these a third of a million lived in the suburbs of the old towns or else in new towns which have grown up around railway stations and in other places a phenomenon which has completely changed the appearance of the country in the last hundred years.

Villages built together have largely disappeared through the exchange of land and the moving of farms; and in addition to the seventy provincial towns coming down from the Middle Ages there are about five hundred new settlements which have grown beyond all expectation. It is necessary for this increased population to live, and not the least important consequence of this necessity is the increase of the industrial population.

The figures pertaining to trade and industry are very instructive. In 1855 there were 56,000 male employers and 42,000 employees or wage-earners a proportion of four to three; in 1870 the figures were respectively 67,000 and 48,000 nearly the same proportion. Ten years later the employers were still in the majority; but in 1890 they were considerably outnumbered by the employees, and in 1901 the proportion was nearly two to one (134,000 employees and 69,000 employers). In 1911, while the number of employers had risen to 72,000, the number of workmen and office-workers was about 158,000. Whereas in 1855 trade and industry together (firms or individuals) had employed about 100,000 workers, fifty-six years later they employed about a quarter of a million; and whereas in 1855 the proportion of employers was 57 per cent., in 1911 it was only 31 per cent. This comparatively short period therefore witnessed a complete revolution. A corresponding impression of the movement may be obtained from the three industrial censuses taken between 1897 and 1914.

The circumstances of the town labourer were by no means easy. We have precise information for 1872; and as it has been proved that during the first decade after the abolition of the guild system workmen's wages were not essentially changed, the figures we give may be taken to represent conditions as they were during the whole period from 1860 to 1872. According to the statistics available, the average daily wage in Copenhagen was 2.73 kroner ($0.73) for industrial workmen and 2.38 kroner ($0.64) for artisans. The working day was long ten to eleven hours exclusive of time for meals. The price of food was high, so that a workman, if he had a family to support, could not provide for it even the bare necessities of life. It was thus absolutely necessary for his wife and children, so far as they could, to participate in the earning of their own livelihood. Conditions were a little better in 1882, as shown by a report for Copenhagen. The average daily wage for an unskilled workman was then 2.37 kroner ($0.64); for a journeyman, 3 kroner ($0.80). Somewhat more might be earned by piece-workers; and as the price of food was decreasing, some progress had been made even though wages were still lamentably low. On the whole, however, it may be said that the new period had not begun very auspiciously.